In 2015, a Washington high school football coach received national attention when he was fired by the Bremerton School District for kneeling to pray following his school’s football games, something he had done for at least seven years, before it was brought to the attention of the school board.
According to news reports, Joseph Kennedy filed a lawsuit in August of 2016, claiming that the school district violated his First Amendment rights. He lost his case in the lower courts, but continued his fight until the United States Supreme Court heard the case in June of 2022 and ruled in his favor that the First Amendment “protected his personal religious observance from government reprisal,” according to CBS News.
It was a long, uphill battle for the part-time high school football coach, who at the time of his dismissal, was receiving approximately $3,000, for that position.
The eight years that followed were not easy for Kennedy. In an interview with CBN News, he and his wife, Denise, shared their struggles and he acknowledged their marriage almost ended in divorce a year into the legal battle. Denise just happened to be the head of the HR department for the school district that he was suing. I can’t even begin to imagine some of the conversations they had.
In the candid interview with CBN, she acknowledged that she did understand her husband’s intention and she even questioned those intentions.
But God opened her eyes. “I realized that God is in this. It’s not my husband or his desire to be the center of attention. God called him to such a time as this,” she said in the interview.
So, on Sept. 1, Kennedy was back on the field at Bremerton High and after the victory, he knelt alone on the 50-yard line and prayed.
Reporters asked what he said in his prayer. His response? “I said thank you probably 30 times. What do you say to the One who got you here to begin with? What we asked from the Supreme Court and all the courts was to be able to be a coach and to be able to pray after a football game.”
On Sept. 6, just five days after his return to the field, Kennedy resigned and posted a statement on his website (coachjoekennedy.com). He cited multiple reasons, including taking care of an ailing family member out of state.
The statement noted: “I believe I can best continue to advocate for constitutional freedom and religious liberty by working from outside the school system so that is what I will do. I will continue to work to help people understand and embrace the historic ruling at the heart of our case. As a result of our case, we all have more freedom, not less. That should be celebrated and not disrespected.
“As I have demonstrated, we must make a stand for what we believe in. In my case, I made a stand to take a knee. I encourage all Americans to make their own stand for freedom and our right to express our faith as we see fit.”
As one might suspect, his decision to resign was derided by some who disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Kennedy’s rights.
“That Kennedy doesn’t want to coach at Bremerton School District isn’t a surprise,” said Rachel Laser chief executive of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State in an Associated Press report. “It’s just one more example of why the Supreme Court should not have taken this case in the first place.”
Kennedy accomplished what he set out to do. The issue was not about the money or even coaching football. The issue was his ability to express his First Amendment right of freedom of religion.
Kennedy stood up for God. That’s a lesson that all Christians should respect and model. B&R